USDA’s APHIS Removes Enforcement Action Database; Information Still Available Through FOIA
UPDATED - February 9, 2017
On Friday, February 3, 2017, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) notified stakeholders that during the last year it had “conducted a comprehensive review of the information it posts on its website” and “will remove from its website inspection reports, regulatory correspondence, research facility annual reports, and enforcement records that have not received final adjudication.” The move impacts information related to research facilities subject to the Animal Welfare Act and entities subject to the Horse Protection Act.
APHIS indicated that such records can be requested under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) and will be released when authorized and in a manner consistent with the FOIA and Privacy Act. NABR members attempting to access information on the APHIS website will notice changes including deactivation of the Animal Care Search Tool known as ACIS. The only information currently available on the website is a list by name and state of licensed and registered facilities.
The APHIS website changes have been widely reported by news media as an “abrupt removal” of information and animal rights groups have speculated that the changes may be driven by the new administration.
However, it is more likely the changes are related to a federal lawsuit filed by individuals and organizations involved with the horse industry in a February 2016 filing against USDA in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas (Contender Farms vs. USDA). The lawsuit alleges that APHIS’ publication of enforcement actions is unlawful, misleading and falsely identifies thousands of people who never received notice of an alleged violation, never had a USDA complaint filed against them and were never afforded the opportunity for a formal hearing as “violators.”
In reviewing the information currently available to NABR, the net result of this action appears to be that all of the information available on the USDA website related to inspection and annual reports will still be available to anyone who files a FOIA request with the personally identifying information redacted. FOIA requests can be filed here: https://efoia-pal.usda.gov/palMain.aspx.
UPDATE - February 9, 2017
NABR supports transparency for information that serves the public good. Historically we have found USDA enforcement data extremely valuable in tracking and analyzing animal use trends in research. We hope the USDA can strike the proper balance between protecting personal privacy and informing the public as expeditiously as possible.